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To Do the Unthinkable

There is a message that is found in the Christian Scriptures, and nowhere else. These are the words of eternal life.

Luke 10:25-28, Matthew 5:43-48, 1 John 4:7-8, Isaiah 61:8, Revelation 21:8, Romans 3:9-20, Isaiah 53:10, Isaiah 53:4-6, Galatians 2:15-16, Galatians 2:18-21

Jun 17, 2012 11:30 AM

MP3 audio icon To-Do-the-Unthinkable_06-17-2012.mp3 — MP3 audio, 9032 kB (9249319 bytes)

Good morning. It's good to be back in the pulpit. Today I will be giving an expanded version of a presentation I gave at the Brookline Retirement Village on May 27th.

When I spoke to the folks there, I told them that I wanted to find the answer to a question. A very important question, and I am confident that most of you here today do know to this question. In fact, you may not hear anything that is new to you in my presentation today. And that's OK. The scriptural truths that I will attempt to present accurately—and I pray to God that my words will be true to the meaning of His Word—these are truths that God's people do not tire of hearing, truths that it is always good for us to think about.

And the question is:

What is the central message of Christianity?

On the day I spoke at Brookline, I asked those present to imagine that I was an unbeliever; that I had been raised in a secular family. And that, like my parents before me, I would describe myself asagnostic.I don't know if there is a God. I have never been all that interested in religion, Jesus, the Bible, or church.

Now, imagine I have recently survived a very bad car wreck. As I was driving home from work, in the rain, the temperature dropped from 35 degrees to 28, in a period of minutes, as it sometimes does. My car hit a patch of black ice and went right off the road and into a tree. Fortunately, I was wearing my seat belt. Battered, bruised, shaken, with a broken arm, I considered myself lucky to be alive. My car was not so lucky. It was totaled.

This event really shook me up and since it happened, I have been reconsidering my life and my beliefs. Perhaps I need to be more serious about my life and my eternal destiny, if I have one. What if God is real? So, I decide to investigate various religions. I approach friends and acquaintances who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, Buddhist, and, finally, Christian. I want to know what is the central focus of each of these religions. What's the message?

Now, in my investigation of Christianity, which I saved for last, I meet with a number of pastors in the area in their offices. I attend services at several different churches. I speak with members of those churches.

My question is simple: What is the central message of Christianity? Can you help me? Anyone? What would you say your religion is all about? I posed this scenario and this question to those present in the community room at Brookline. I asked how they would respond.

Well, what happened is that one woman spoke right up and gave me the answer I was looking for. And I had to say, “Yes. That's it.” And the question and answer session was over just about as soon as it had begun. Which was fine. I had written a list of answers that, based on past experience, I might have expected to have gotten to my question. So, here are some answers you might hear if you asked the question, “What is the central message of Christianity?

1) The golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

2) If we live a good life, we will get to heaven.

3) We are to transform culture and to bring about good in society.

4) That God is the Creator and Judge of all.

5) Everyone has free will. And we need to learn to use it constructively; to become better people.

6) That God will punish the wicked; where the fire is not quenched and the worm dies not.

7) Jesus loves me; this I know; for the Bible tells me so.

8) God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

[...and dare I hope, someone will respond with the gospel, that the God-man, Jesus Christ, died to save sinners?]

While there may be merit in some of these statementssome more than othersnone of them; I am convinced; represent the central, core truth that defines Christianity, a truth which you will not find anywhere else.

And I haven't even mentioned answers that you are going to get—answers that people will actually give you that are flat out damnable heresy. Statements such as:

9) God wants you to be healthy and wealthy. So send in that seed faith offering today so that God can bless you.

10) Love wins; therefore, God will ultimately accept all people into His presence with joy.

11) What God wants is for us to create an inclusive community where no one will be discriminated against on the basis of color, creed, class, gender, or sexual orientation.

12) We should take from the rich and give it to the poor.

13) The Virgin Mary, the Queen of Heaven, the Mediatrix of all Graces, will intercede with her Son on your behalf, if only you will ask her. For the only way to God is through her.

14) We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

Yikes! Well, setting aside the latter statements, as being clearly contrary to scripture, what about earlier ones? Some of them represent solid, biblical teachings.

You know what my response would to be after hearing most of these answers? Honestly? Well, If I were an unbeliever seeking answers; after speaking with the members of a number of other religions, I would have to say to the Christians who gave me those answers,I've heard most of this before.” I've even heard the name of Jesus mentioned by members of some of these other religions as being a good teacher and an important person in history. I mean, do you Christians offer anything different? Anything more?

I've had Indian food. I liked it. Spicy stuff. Curry. Why not Hinduism? I bet they have great fellowship meals at the Hindu temple. And if it's about doing good; well, they do teach that stuff too.

Or Mormonism. As I understand it, there are some real captains of industry who attend that church, wealthy business owners. And, they tend to prefer to hire Mormons when they can. Why not make my new religion work for me? If I can get something out of it like a good, high-paying job, all the better. And they teach all the usual stuff that religions teach anyway. The golden rule. Love God. Love your fellow man. Mormons have a reputation for being very moral people.

Well, I'm going to tell you what I believe to be the central and absolutely unique message of Christianity. What makes Christianity different from every other religion, philosophy, or ideology out there. You will find this message in the Bible. But you will not find it in the teachings or in the sacred writings of any other religion. You won't find it in any other system of thought known to man. And, unfortunately, there are churches that bear the nameChristianwhere you will rarely, if ever, hear it mentioned.

I'm talking about the Gospel.Gospelis how our English Bibles translate the Greek wordEuangelion,which meansgood news.” This “gospel”, this good news, consists of a report of historical events that happened in the life of a man who lived long ago. The story of this man is told in the Bible. This good news is Jesus and what He has done for sinners. What He did constitutes the only means whereby men and women may be reconciled to God, and enjoy His fellowship forever.

Now, you will in fact find many of the answers I mentioned earlier in the Scriptures. The Bible does teach that there is one God; that this God created the heavens and the earth, that mankind fell into sin and that we have earned the Just Judge's condemnation for our sins. Further, we are told how we are to live. That we are to love and worship God. That we are to love our neighbors. And that God loves us.

But none of this is the Gospel. Even the statement “God loves you” is not the Gospel. It's true. I believe it to be a biblical statement that you could share with anyone and everyone. And you would be telling them the truth. But you would not be telling them the Gospel. And further, “God loves you” is a statement to which Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Mormons, Zoroastrians and Druids could all assent. They would not all agree on the meaning of those words. But they could all verbalize that statement and mean it.

In Luke 10:25-28, we read:

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying,Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?He said to him,What is written in the Law? How do you read it?And he answered,You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.And he said to him,You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live."

This lawyer saw the prize, eternal life, and wanted to know how to get it.What shall I do to inherit eternal life?I am willing to do whatever it takes to get in right with God. What is it I must do? Another time, as we read in Matthew 22, Jesus was questioned as to the what was the greatest commandment. His answer is very similar to the one he gives here. Love God. Love your neighbor.

So, this is the gospel then? Love God. Love your neighbor. God will respect that. God will be pleased with you. God will let you into heaven. Right?

Well, there is so much that can be said with regard to these questions. But, seeing that time is quickly passing, I'll get right to the point. For anyone who thinks they are able to measure up to the standard Jesus set in his talk with the lawyer, consider what he said in Matthew 5:43-48:

You have heard that it was said,You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

You must be perfect as God is perfect. That's a rather high standard. Have you met it? Have you kept the law of love perfectly? I haven't. If you have met the standard, you've got nothing to worry about on Judgement Day. If you have not, it's not going to be a good day for you. Unless...There is more to this story. I'll get to it in a moment.

But first, consider God's character. If Jesus is telling us that God requires us to love; to love God above all, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves; and to do so perfectly, what does that say about God? When Jesus commands us,Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,He does so in the context of commanding us to love others. Could He say that if God were not the epitome, the paragon of perfect love?

The apostle John tells us in 1st John 4:7-8:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

And yet, I contend thatGod loves youis not the Gospel. Because, you see; God is not merely loving. God is also just.

Isaiah 61:8a

For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong;

Revelation 21:8
But
as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

So, what's the problem? I'm not so bad, right? I love God and my neighbor. For the most part. I am not as bad as some people I know! Don't forget. God's standard isbe perfect.None of us measure up to that standard. In fact, it's worse than we realize.

In Romans 3:9-20, Paul dashes all our self-righteous hopes and tells us just how God sees us.

"What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

None is righteous, no, not one;
no
one understands;
no
one seeks for God.
All
have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no
one does good,
not
even one.
Their throat is an open grave;
they
use their tongues to deceive.
The venom of asps is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in
their paths are ruin and misery,
and
the way of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Now, if this is how God sees us. If this is how we really are. We're in trouble. Not just trouble. We're doomed. The lake of fire we read about; that's where we are going. We deserve it. God's awful wrath is upon us. Justly.

Unless...There is more to this story.

This is where the Gospel comes in. God could rightly send all of us to hell without another thought about us. He would be just to do so. And understand this: He would even be loving. You see, in sinning against God, we have slighted, offended and blasphemed each member of the Blessed Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They will demonstrate their love for each other, which is greater than their love for the creature, by overturning the offense, the blasphemy, the verdict that we have rendered against our Maker, in saying, as we all have done in our hearts, “I will ascend to the throne. I will not have You to reign over me.God will be vindicated in the everlasting punishment of sinners.

So what is the Gospel? What is this Good News? Is there any? Cause we desperately need some.

Yes! And it is more wonderful and amazing and glorious than anything we could have imagined.

The Good News that I want to proclaim to you today is the person and work of Jesus Christ, on behalf of sinners. God the Father sent His Son, co-eternal Deity with the Father and the Spirit, to the Earth, to become a man; to live among us; to live the life of perfect obedience to the Father; to do what we failed to do. He loved God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength, perfectly, every moment of His life, in thought, word, and deed. He loved His neighbor as Himself. He healed the sick, fed the multitudes, raised the dead, taught the truth to the people for 3 ½ years.

All this He did because, first, this was His heart. He showed us what love is. Read the gospels. Read about Jesus if you want to see what love is. But He also did all of this in order to fulfill His Father's law, so that He might be qualified to do...the unthinkable! The one act in which the unfathomable depth of God's love was displayed beyond anything any man or woman, angel or devil, could possibly have imagined.

Jesus went willingly to suffer and die a humiliating death at the hands of wicked men on a Roman cross. The light of the world, the Creator of all things, the Righteous One, the only man who ever lived who did not deserve to die, because He was without sin. Naked, beaten, He was nailed to that cross at Calvary and suffered and died there.

And that's not the worst of it. In prophecying the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the prophet Isaiah wrote that,

 

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

And

 

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

So Jesus submitted, not only to the indignity and suffering of being beaten, mocked, and put to death by sinful men, but also to suffering the wrath of God poured out on Him without mercy by His Father. He did this to satisfy the just demands of God's law that sin must be punished. As the just Judge, God will not allow any sin to go unpunished. To do so would make Him unjust.

By the way, this is another aspect of Christianity that makes it unique among religions. Other religions present God—their idea of God, anway, as overlooking sin, letting it slide, as a judge who accepts bribes in the form of prayers, rituals, and good works in exchange for excusing men's sins. Not our God.

So, Jesus died on the cross. The Just for the unjust. He was buried.

The third day He rose from the grave, conquering death; and vindicating Him, His teachings, and His mission to save sinners.

Now, He invites us each to come to Him, cast all our cares on Him. Turn from our self-reliance, our self-righteousness. Trust Him and His righteousness as our only hope. And He promises to reconcile us to His Father. And to prepare a place for us; in His Father's house. That we may enjoy their fellowship forever.

When we turn to Him in faith and repentance, trusting in Him and what He has done for us as the only provision that the Father will accept for our justification, that is, for God to declare us righteous, to declare our sins gone and forgotten, and so to bring us into His presence as His children, then Christ's death on the cross becomes our death, in which the curse of the law passes over us. And His resurrection becomes ours. We pass from death to life as a new Creation in Christ Jesus.

He did all of this for His enemies. The Holy, Eternal, Almighty Son of God, who made us; who gave us life and all the good gifts we enjoy every day. Shed His precious blood for people who hate Him, people who use His name as a cuss word; who would not have Him to rule over them, who would just as soon spit in His face, as the men who beat and crucified Him did.

No one else has a message like this. It's the only Gospel there is.

Galatians

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Galatians

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.


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